City of Chicago and drugmaker Pfizer agree on opioid education & strict marketing standards

City of Chicago and drugmaker Pfizer agree on opioid education & strict marketing standards

There’s never been anything quite like this – a Big Pharma drugmaker formally agreeing with a big city to follow a “truth in advertising” program – essentially a code of conduct for marketing opioids that many officials hope will save lives, and become standard practice throughout the industry. The fact that the code of conduct is essentially the basic legal requirements for marketing opioids (or any drugs) hasn’t detracted from the city’s sense of accomplishment, nor Pfizer’s proclaiming it as a pretty big deal. Two years ago, the City of Chicago sued five other drug makers, claiming that their deceptive marketing of opioids criminally contributed to soaring injury and death rates in the city. Pfizer, which only makes one opioid painkiller (unlike the others who make several) wasn’t one of those named in the suit. Chicago targeted opioid painkiller makers Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ Cephalon Inc. In its lawsuit, says industry blog FiercePharma, Chicago claims that the companies “used sophisticated – and highly deceptive and unfair – marketing to effect a ‘sea change’ in attitudes toward the drugs. The marketing, including a set of awareness campaigns mounted by organizations allegedly funded by the drugmakers, steered patients with chronic pain toward the meds despite the dangers, the lawsuit claims.” Although the Chicago lawsuit was dismissed last year, the city filed an amended suit last November detailing hundreds of specific claims about the companies’ marketing practices and how they impacted the city’s costs. Bloomberg News reported that Chicago sought an unspecified amount for damages for costs associated with nearly 400,000 insurance claims for opioid prescriptions costing nearly $9,500,000, and for the costs of providing long-term opiate treatments for chronic non-cancer pain which may not be medically valid but may have been promoted as valid by the drug companies.

Not just Chicago

The same list of companies were sued for much the same kinds of reasons by several other states, counties and cities, including two California municipalities, Santa Clara County and Orange County, on behalf of the entire state of California, and the entire state of Kentucky. For some reason, Abbot Labs (now AbbVie), the maker of the highly-addictive and widely abused opioid painkiller Vicodin, didn’t make the list on any of the lawsuits. According to reports, Pfizer’s agreement with Chicago on the marketing standards helped it avoid being drawn into the Chicago lawsuit. The company also provided the city with useful evidence against the other companies. Meanwhile, industry watchers say that the four-year agreement with Chicago is no big deal, because it only requires Pfizer to follow existing drug marketing rules, laws and regulations. “They’re agreeing not to break the law? That’s nothing to celebrate,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), which advocates “policies that promote cautious, evidence-based prescribing of opioids and other controlled drugs.”

66 opioid deaths a day

Dr. Kolodny’s group points out that every day, about 60 people die from opioid overdoses – 44 from narcotic painkillers and 16 from heroin. According to PROP, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has been clear about the cause of the crisis: overprescribing of opioids, especially for chronic non-cancer pain. “Opioid prescribing began increasing sharply in the 1990s, largely in response to an industry-funded campaign that minimized opioid risks and exaggerated benefits,” PROP says. “The increased prevalence of opioid addiction, caused by overexposing the U.S. population to prescription opioids, has also led to rising rates of heroin use in non-urban communities and other health and social problems.” Pfizer’s agreement with the City of Chicago is “voluntary and completely separate” from the city’s legal actions against other companies, a company spokeswoman told FiercePharma. “The city did not find that Pfizer had violated any of its ordinances and there’s no admission of wrongdoing,” she said. “For us, it’s a public health issue. We want to make sure that the right people who need [opioids] have it.” The agreed-on code of conduct basically reflects Pfizer’s current marketing policies, the spokeswoman said. “Pfizer adheres to all applicable laws and regulations as well as to industry standards, including the PhRMA Code and the ACCME Standards,” she said, adding that Pfizer also participates in the FDA's risk-management programs for extended-release and long-acting opioids. Anything that helps put the brakes on over-prescribing of opioids is a good thing. Here at Novus, we help people trapped by prescription drugs get their lives back. Don’t hesitate to call us if you or someone you care for needs help.

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